The dark sea above rolled in its slumber while in its depths I stirred. Snow crunched beneath my feet as I continued on; white breath trailed beside my cheeks; and, I hunched grasping my own warmth, that is, what little there was to possess.
Dawn would not yearn for me as I desired it, though the moon seemed to favor me, as I watched it pass between the leaves of the trees following me. It gave no warmth, but it did grant me comfort, as I could see the earth and snow below me. For now I was alone in these woods, as the silent creatures that watched me were all gone.
The wolves had kept their promise, however I did not expect beasts to keep their word. Wolves that spoke in human tongue, or at least a human (Or magician? As they said) that spoke wolfish tongue, I was unsure of what was more fantastic: Myself or them.
The thorn bangle laid still on my wrist, secretive. A cryptic answer that I would need to discover, either through memories or other tribulations. My thoughts refused to return to me, and so I feared what trials laid before me. Who was I, and why was I traveling the woods, alone of all things?
An exile or outcast of some kind, I assumed. I carried nothing on me, save for what clothed my body and jewelry. My robes were tattered, portions were dirty and some threading had become loose. I feared that someone, or some thing, was chasing me.
The wolves had said they were hunting ‘the death.’ Was I fleeing that? It was certain I was not ‘the death’ itself. Troubles added to my confusion. Lost in a winter forest posed its own problems, but now I had to be wary of ‘the death.’ The faint cracks of snow as I walked led to a paranoia. I listened to every sound. The air was still, and the forest folk made no utterances. All that could be heard was myself. Breathing. Alive. Feet crushing snow. Twigs snapped and the earth groaned. Every sound was a threat, though it was all made by myself.
I emptied my mind, calming myself. Looking to the fire folk in the abyssal sea, I watched their natures shimmer. It would do me no good to panic; I need only to continue on–If I was nowhere, then I just needed to be somewhere. The dark forests have their own beasts, and this ‘the death’ was one of many. Caution was needed.
I sighed. The encounter with the wolves was taxing. My own situation was taxing. The stars, moon, and night sky were not. I focused on these things, turning my gaze towards the shadowing moon. My eyes, instead, caught a glimpse of a small light. It burned like the moon in its blueish, silver haze. It darted behind the trunks of the trees, peeking out when it did not think I noticed. A pixie or some other kind of fae folk, I pondered. Approaching it, the light faded, only for it to dart further away from me. I decided to not follow it, however it did not leave me. It continued to peek behind trunks as I walked through the forest.
“What do you want?” My voice echoed beneath the canopy of leaves. Snow on a nearby branch fell.
The small light shuddered, then it played within the air. It wanted my attention. I followed it from a distance, making sure that its light did not dwindle for approaching it too closely. It circled tree trunks, flew into leaves, and panicked as snow almost crushed it. A small grin covered my face. I wanted to laugh at the silliness of this creature, but the cold had stiffened my skin, making it hurt.
As I watched it, the thought came to me that it was a will-o’-the-wisp. ‘Foolish fire,’ some had called it, for its silly theatrics. It bounced in the air when I had trouble keeping up. Fallen tree trunks, ditches, and deep snow patches slowed me down, though it waited for me. Hovering near a hole in a tree, it woke a sleeping squirrel, which did not take kindly to the will-o’-the-wisp. I heard the chattering of the squirrel, no doubt scolding the small fire in its own way. It bobbed up and down, as if it were apologizing, then darted off, leading me further.
A clearing emerged. The will-o’-the-wisp brought me out of the forest. The horizon was dark and deep, and all that could be seen was a plain of snow. However a small campfire and its denizen rested before it all. Other will-o’-the-wisps had gathered here, like a grove of fireflies, perhaps attracted by the fire as moths to a flame (Was I not one myself?). I welcomed anything, at this point.
The will-o’-the-wisp that brought me rested near the cloaked figure, who nodded in motion with the swaying of the small, foolish fire. The figure stepped away from the fire it was attending to sit on a log. A black bird nested there, watching the will-o’-the-wisp with hungry intent. Another black bird hopped in circles around the fire, as though it were playing with the shadows it cast.
Stepping into the campfire’s light and through the other small fires that hovered around it (they dimmed as I came close), I saw it was a woman. She was garbed in a dark, green robe. Her face was attractive, like a noble lady, though it had seen many days in the sun. Her black hair seemed to disappear into her robe, though if the hood were removed, it would have been absorbed in the landscape’s darkness. Nothing else stood out, however, besides her eyes. They were like two full moons that had watched me since my birth.
“Are, are you a witch?” Fear coursed through my body.
The will-o’-the-wisp nestled in her lap, as the black bird sprung from its spot. It ate the small fire, then hopped off her lap onto the log. It puffed its feathers at me (Did it fear me for approaching?), but I saw a small, blueish, silver fire flow through them. The will-o’-the-wisp left the bird’s body and joined the others that surrounded the campfire.
“Some have called me so, but I am no witch.” She laughed, seeing the black bird chase after the will-o’-the-wisp. “Strange of you to have found me, Thornweaver. Likeness binds to likeness, I suppose.” She welcomed me to sit next to her.
“Thornweaver? And who are you? Do you know who I am?” I was excited that perhaps she knew.
She raised her arm, revealing a similar bangle to mine. A wooden bangle shaped in the form of thorns. “We have never met, so I must apologize. I do not. I am Maeja.” She pointed towards my wrist. “That shows you, too, are a Thornweaver. It does not help either that you smell of roses. Have you sought recourse lately?”
“Recourse? I, yes, wolves attacked me earlier, so I somehow called on this power. Listen. I know this is odd, but I’m lost, and I don’t know why I’m lost. I’ve even lost my memory.”
She turned her eyes back to the forest. “Do you know your name?”
“No, I don’t. Can you tell me more about me being a Thornweaver?”
“I’m afraid it won’t help you with your identity. Men both great and small come to be Thornweavers. It is near identical to holding sway over the elements of wood and earth. As to where you are now, you’re in the New World, in the Greater Americas. Perhaps you hit your head?”
The question caught me off guard. I could have hit my head, and that was why I lost my memories. “I. I haven’t checked to see if I did. I didn’t consider it.”
“Of course you didn’t. I bet you were wandering around scared and confused in those woods.” Maeja motioned me closer to her as her hands pressed onto my head, feeling for any lumps or signs of blood. My face rested on her shoulder as she checked. The scent of roses pervaded her robes. The whole affair felt embarrassing, as though she were a mother making sure her child was fine. “No, you didn’t hit your head, but there is a strong magic still lingering. Your memories have been concealed.”
I raised my head from her shoulders. “Concealed, by who?”
“Child, if I knew, I would tell you. There are many things and many people who could do such a thing. For now, let us deal with your present. You said you didn’t know your name, yes?”
“That would explain why that’s here, then.”
She pointed back towards the forest. Beyond the campfire light and past the ring of will-o’-the-wisps, a thin, human looking creature stared at us. The bones pushed against its skin, almost protruding out of it. Its skin was ashen, with areas around the chest that seemed to have rotted away. I thought it were the shadows covering them, but the eyes were absent; the cavities were like dark pits that hungered for me.
“What, what is that!” I sprung up from the log, ready to run off. Maeja did not move; she was not worried.
“It’s a Wendigo. They devour those who have lost their paths, as well as those who have no names. But calm yourself. It knows you are here, but it cannot see you. It also knows that I am here, and it dares not enter.”
Maeja waved her hand at the black bird that was hopping around the campfire. It stopped, then hopped towards her. I thought it were a crow, but its feathers had a purple glean to them. The bird puffed its feather at me as she picked it up, smoothing them down and calming the bird. She uttered something to it, then released the bird into the night. I watched as it disappeared into the darkness above, though I could see its faint glimmer. It swooped towards the Wendigo, hitting the creature. It tried to bat the bird away, but to no avail.
“Names are powerful, as they signify what things are. Not to possess a name means one belongs to the void. We are given names at our birth, as all life opposes the void. Yet to wander without a name, a void revenant came to claim you.”
I watched as the Wendigo retreated into the woods. The bird returned to us, puffing its feathers in the direction of the Wendigo, then continued to hop around the campfire. It seemed pleased with its efforts. Maeja’s white eyes smiled at the bird, then returned to me with concern.
“‘The death.’ The wolves had said to me they were hunting it.”
“Ah, the wolves that attacked you?”
“Yes. They called me a magician, and apologized thinking I was ‘the death.'”
“It goes without saying.” She shook her bangle. “Even lower creatures oppose it. All of creation does. Let me see. You require a name.” Maeja stepped towards the fire, procuring a burning piece of wood. Before I could react, she pressed it against my lips. The fire blazed before my eyes, blinding me. For a moment I only saw darkness, though I felt her rub ash onto my forehead, marking it. She then whispered: “Before all to witness, I name him: Joas. Fire claims him, as do I. What fire claims, fire shall burn.”
My sight returned to me, as I watched her pull away, setting the piece of wood within the fire once more.
“This is your true name now, even if you should recover your old name. You may choose to stay with me, or you may leave. Though if you stay you will not find out who you are, and I think it would be better if you do. Regardless, you are bound to this fire. Likeness binds likeness. And so, to me as well.”
I considered it. It was not unappealing to stay, but I wanted to know who I was. “I will go.”
Maeja sat beside me on the log, peering out into the plains of snow beside her. “A child should see the world. Remember, however, you are free to return if you need to. You found me once, though I suspect fate was at play. You will find me again.” She kissed my forehead. “Likeness binds likeness.” She smiled.
In the distance, I saw a small fire. It did not belong to the will-o’-the-wisps, but a lantern. It was carried by two men traveling with a small dragon, who was trudging through the snow. The thought came to me, that it was better to be somewhere rather than nowhere. “Its no accident for them to be here either, is it?”
“There are no accidents in this world. Go. See where they take you.” I looked into her full-moon eyes, imagining that wherever the moon gazed on me, she would, too.
I peered back towards the forest, but the Wendigo had not returned. I possessed a name, though not my original name; it was still a name. My name. There was no need to fear for the Wendigo and its kin, if Maeja were correct. Though I was certain she was correct.
I stepped through the encircling Foolish Fires and out of the campfire’s light. I turned to ask Maeja how would I find her, but the campfire and the will-o’-the-wisps were all gone, including the forest. Behind me stretched the night, and before me stood two men and their dragon, shouting.
“Oi! Begone trespasser!”
From the lantern rose a giant serpent of fire. It slithered through the air towards me, with the intent to kill.